Mumbai, 31 Oct 2018 11:00 IST
Updated: 17 May 2019 2:45 IST
Set in 2012, the film in the Gaddi language directed by Ridham Janve unravels like a puzzle but also leaves some questions unanswered.
Scottish-American naturalist John Muir once wrote, "The mountains are calling and I must go..." Ridham Janve's first feature, The Gold-Laden Sheep And The Sacred Mountain (Sona Dhandi Bhed Te Suchha Pahad) sort of emulates Muir's quote.
An old shepherd Arjun, who lives in the harsh hilly regions of the Dhauladhar mountains of Himachal Pradesh, ventures out to seek the remains of an air force jet and its pilot. His difficult and bewildering quest takes away from his daily life into the force of the mist-covered 'sacred mountain' which few conquer.
The old man (Arjun Pant) resides in a hut made of rocks and tends to his sizeable flock of sheep and goats. Arjun has one helper, Bahadur (Lokendra Gurung), and he berates him constantly, which makes for some funny moments.
Arjun is plagued by constant headaches and knee problems, but he is as agile going up and down the mountain trails as any of the young men.
One day, he hears (and feels) the after-effects of a plane crash when grazing his herd. Soon after, a rescue squad is sent out, but the helicopter and planes cannot find the crash site. The local men, who know the mountain well, come together to find the crashed aircraft. Their intention isn't entirely pure; there is a reward for the seekers.
Arjun and Bahadur come across these men as they move the flock from one area to another. Hearing all this talk, Arjun, without informing Bahadur, sets out on his own to find the crash site near the sacred mountain. The mountain folk all have their legends, but this is based on true events — years before, there was another plane crash and a shepherd set out to find it, never to be seen again. His flock of sheep wandered the mountain aimlessly, their cries mingling with the wind.
The local rescuers believe only those make it out alive whom the Naag god wants to survive. Another myth, brought up by Bahadur, persists, of gold and treasure hidden in the mountains and on the sheep, by kings hiding their wealth from looters.
Set in 2012, the Gaddi-language film, co-written by Akshay Singh and Janve, unravels like a puzzle, but at end, it brings up a lot of unanswered questions which linger. For instance, is Arjun dreaming when he hears the whispers near the sacred lake, especially the line, "Your mind is like an ocean; like the mountain"? What has happened to him?
The Gold-Laden Sheep And The Sacred Mountain has a famous backer; filmmaker Anurag Kashyap is listed as producer. It has been shot without any artificial light by cinematographer Saurabh Monga. He lights the shots with available light. Of course, the day shots look like scenes from a travelogue, with mountain-tops and hilly terrain as the backdrop.
There are several long takes in the film, often wide still shots of the scenery from which the characters (or, in some instances, the sheep) enter the frame from the right. Sometimes, there is nothing on screen but pure white mist.
A nod to Bigya Dahal's sound design for helping us through sequences when we can't see or decipher much. The natural sounds recorded on set are an integral part of the film. Jered Sorkin's score is moody and haunting, hinting at what lies ahead.
While the movie is gorgeously filmed and told, it moves along languidly and, sometimes, it is difficult to understand when and where the action is occurring. For some, the answers will be evident, for others, the search will continue. Either way, this parable is a story worth listening to.
The Gold-Laden Sheep And The Sacred Mountain was screened at the 20th Mumbai Film Festival on 29 October 2018. The film will be screened at the 14th Habitat Film Festival at New Delhi's India Habitat Centre on 18 May 2019 at 4 pm.